Writer vs. Author?

This is a conundrum that I have often contemplated. Is there a difference? I have always felt there was.

But no one seems to agree on what that difference is.

Some people seem to feel that the distinction is a creative one. An author creates worlds, characters, plots, and the like. While a writer simply ‘writes’ about a topic, like a journalist or technical writer. But that never felt quite right to me.

My least favorite explanation by far though is the profit-driven motive. You are a writer until you sell your stories then you become an author. Some even argue that you cannot call yourself a ‘writer’ until you make your first dollar. This one harkens back to the days when traditional publishing ruled, but even in the days of indie, it still lingers. RWA (Romance Writers of America) use this standard for membership. They even go so far as to define the $$$ amounts at which you elevate yourself from a mere want-to-be writer to an author. This one I could never buy. (Pun intended.)

For me, the definition by author/writer Dean Wesley Smith fits best. Though not perfectly. A couple of his points resonate strongly with me:

— A Writer is a person who writes the next story.

— An Author is a person who spends their time promoting their last story.

— A Writer gets feedback from the simple act of writing and finishing stories.

— An Author must get feedback from external sources such as reviews, sales, promotions, editors, workshops, and so on.

Sure…but what does it matter? Didn’t Shakespeare say…A rose by any other name would smell as sweet…and all that?

For me, at least, this distinction makes a HUGE, mammoth, behemoth, gargantuan, colossal difference. One that has haunted my work for over seven years.

You see I am a writer. I think constantly of the next story…dozens of them in my mind at any moment. Screaming to come out. I cannot write fast enough to get them all out it seems. That is my primary motivation for writing. The satisfaction of getting the characters and their stories out of my head.

A secondary consideration is touching people. Having my stories read and their words meaning something…even if only one person. That means more to me than all the sales and traded/paid reviews ever could.

Yet for the past seven years, I have found myself sucked into being the author I never wanted to be. How did that happen?

Because quite frankly the society in which we live does not value its writers. All the advice and services that are out there serve the author community, not those of us who are writers at heart.

So, how did it happen?

I wrote my first story at eleven. In math class. I was punished for it. Well, not for writing, but for lying about it and not taking the story home to be signed by my mother. You see the math teacher who was covering the metric system said, ‘You will never be a writer, but you will need to know about liters, meters, and kilograms.’

Ha-ha, America still does not use the metric system (except for Coke and Pepsi). And living in the UK, I long ago stopped trying to convert. Besides, if I need to know how many cups of flour one-hundred grams is, I ask Alexa or Google. (Not that I bake by recipe any more than I write by a formula.)

I took creative writing in high school…twice. I even placed in a couple of poetry contest with my free verse, ‘Who am I?’ (I am still trying to answer that one.)

But I kept getting the same message, writing is not a career. You can never make a living from it. And money is what matters, what makes this world go round.

So, writing faded into the background of motherhood, only to pop its head up once, when my husband the preacher picked up one of my Harlequins. He was convinced that we could write them. Even going so far as to buy the latest gadget, a wordprocessor (home computers were still too expensive then). I still remember the story we started together…I might pull it out sometime and finish it. But our writing partnership was dead even before our marriage.

I moved on to the magical land of dreams, Southern California, Los Angeles. I started a new life. And I discovered a new passion: fanfic. I had fallen in love with Christine Feehan’s Carpathian series. I now had one of those personal computer things. And even the internet. Suddenly the world was a lot bigger…and smaller. I discovered there were whole groups who created stories based upon her world-building.

And as any writer knows, it is impossible to simply be a reader. Your mind cannot stop imagining how you would have done it differently. (That fault still plagues my book reviews.) But now I had an outlet for that. And hundreds of other women just as addicted to it as I was. Women, who appreciated the unique voice that I brought to her world.

Once more, reality, making money, children, and men interrupted my writing. But since that first computer, it is a passion that I have never completely abandoned again. I may go days, weeks, and occasionally even months without writing, but I always come back.

Writing is my catharsis. It has gotten me through two divorces, losing five jobs, more than a decade as a single mother, my youngest daughter’s challenges with epilepsy and her autism diagnosis, and until my partner been a more consistent lover than the men (and occasional women) who drifted in and out of my life.

I began to seriously write a decade ago as my second marriage crumbled around me. I was stuck in a foreign country whose culture I still have never fully adapted to. I had lost three jobs in two years through no fault of my own. My baby was sick and I did not understand the medical system enough to get her the medical care that I knew she needed. And if that were not enough, my husband was cyber cheating…and did not protect me from the verbal abuse of his family.

Writing was my salvation. It began with a truly crappy story that I posted to a porn site. Yes, I said porn. I am not ashamed then or now to admit I write erotica, erotic romance, porn, whatever you want to call it. I prefer Fifty Shades meets Jane Austen with fat, old, dif-abled people. Readers loved my stories, even if I think they are crap now.

Then someone messaged me about another place…Literotica. I was so good, I should write there. So, I submitted my first story there. It was crap too. In fact, I don’t even look at that old profile and those first stories. They make me cringe too much.

But for writers, it is writing, more than reviews or editors or classes, which helps them to grow and develop in their craft. And I did over the next couple of years between my baby’s health and behavioral struggles, a miscarriage, domestic abuse, poverty, and depression. Without writing, I don’t think I would have made it through any of that.

By the time, I finally had the courage and ability to leave my husband, I was ready for a new brand as a writer too. So, I created a new profile at Literotica. I began with a fresh slate. And better writing skills. Was I perfect? No. I still am not. Writers never arrive. We are constantly improving our craft.

Writing saw me through eighteen months of celibacy. I poured every fantasy I had into the keys of my laptop while my daughter slept, or watched television, or played games on her iPad. It was my sanity and my salvation. I created some rather remarkable characters and stories that I am still proud of to this day: Sergeant Mike and Esther, Daniel and Jill, and my Ægir’s. I chronicled my exploration of the BDSM community, the good and the bad. I lived, I loved, I wrote, and I grew as a writer and a human being.

But my world around me was getting worse, spiraling out of control. I hated London. I could not get my daughter the care she needed. I had a string of relationships that left me fractured and broken. But worse, I felt powerless to change any of it.

A lot of people talk about societal safety nets of welfare. What they forget that nets trap you. I was trapped. I could not work because my daughter needed me. I could not move, because the flat that the council provided us was our only option. I wanted desperately to go back home to America but it was impossible on the small ‘dole’ checks that I received to save enough for us to do so.

Then some writer friends at Literotica began to encourage me. They were publishing their stories on Amazon…and making money. I could do it too. It was easy. Just follow the tropes…I knew them all, after all, I had been reading romance for over three decades. Use social media to grow your audience. Trade reviews with other authors. Promote your books, market your stories, schmooze other writers.

I bought their snake oil. I followed the dream. You know the one…if J. K. Rowling can write Harry Potter on a napkin while a single mother on the dole…then so can I. Except the truth is that statistically speaking you are more likely to win the lottery than become that type of best-selling author.

Heck, almost no one, certainly none of those writer friends that drew me into becoming an author, even earns their living as an author. Most, either submit their books to dozens and hundreds of agents and publishers, only to receive enough rejection letters to paper the walls. Or, like me, they make a few dollars here and there. But not enough to live on, certainly not become rich and famous.

The thing is too…even to do that…to make a modest living or supplement your day job…you have to write what people want to read. Not necessarily the stories that inside you. That was my problem.

Stories like Sergeant Mike with his PTSD are too stark for most readers. I had one of those writer friends tell me that I should cut half his musings because it was too depressing. She told me…by the time I finished, I felt like I had PTSD alongside Sergeant Mike. As a writer that is perhaps one of the biggest compliments, I have ever received. As an author, that shit don’t sell.

Writing became a chore for me. And marketing and promoting? Let’s don’t even talk about those. Hate is not a strong enough word for it. And the idea of trading reviews with other writers or ARCs to reviewers? For me, seemed dishonest. But that was how authors did it. There were too many articles, books, and services set up to ‘help’ you do it better.

The truth is…most of those services, editors, cover designers, and several of the marketing services, are how other authors make their money. Not from actually writing and selling their books, but from putting themselves out there as ‘experts’ to other writers. I do NOT mean to condemn them or sound self-righteous. You do what you gotta do to feed your family.

But the bottom line for me…I never wanted to be an author. I am a writer. That is what I do and who I am. That is all I want. 

Like I said, the point of this is not to pass judgment on others, be they, authors or writers. But to come clean with my own soul. To get back on MY path. To rediscover the joy in my writing.

Practically speaking…while I have decided to leave my books on Amazon, for the odd person that might want to purchase one, especially a print-on-demand paper copy, I am abandoning all pretense of being an ‘author.’ That is not me.

I am returning with passion to the home I once had at Literotica. I am finishing up old stories that have been in my head for years. And eventually, there are a few new ones running around in my old brain. (Yes, relax. Ægir’s is on that list…as is Nightwalker’s Woman.)

I want to end this blog with a special thanks to my partner and fiancee, Alan Cox. He is my own ‘millionaire Dom’ (only speaking in tropes here) without whom I would still be stuck in that hovel in north London, trying to live someone else’s dream, trading my soul as a writer for my chance to win the author lottery. His encouragement for the past three years to ‘just write’ before those crazzy fans at Lit hunt me down for the ending to these stories has finally sunk in to this thick head…and freed the writer in me to soar once more.

Thank you, my beloved Cookie Monster and soul mate. You are a better hero than I have ever written (or can hope to)…or even read. I hold each day with you and our beloved PanKwake as a sacred blessing of Fate. One to which writing merely adds spice.

As for those, who disagree with my assessment of the differences between writer and author, or who do not think I am a ‘twue’ writer…kiss my grits.

The bottom line is…

We each must follow our hearts and destinies when it comes to our art. You do you, boo…as PanKwake would say.

Oh, and check out my Lit profile…or better yet, follow me there. I am releasing several chapters/stories each week. So, that is the only way to be sure that you don’t miss any.

May the goddess of Love and her cold-hearted Dom partner, Fate bless each of you as they have me,
Tara

 

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